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Restaurant of the Week: Fonda Rosa

Mexican eatery needs both kinds of heat
by: KATIE HARTLEY, Fonda Rosa’s beet and avocado salad would make a great meal paired with the restaurant’s chicken quesadilla. Some of the other smaller choices, though, like the tacos, are a little pricey.

If you're looking for a balmy Mexican restaurant to banish January's drippy, dreary weather, the six-week-old Fonda Rosa on Northeast 28th Avenue isn't going to fill the bill.

In wintertime, the narrow, glassed-in space feels more like Nebraska than Acapulco, with brisk air seeping through the windows and frigid blasts wafting in when the doors open.

That said, it's a friendly, neighborhood spot, and its warmheartedness could compensate for the cool temperatures. The full bar with a host of special drinks - including a few margaritas and sangria - heats up dinner, too.

Among the appetizers, the plain chips served with salsa and guacamole were crunchy, salty and full of fresh corn flavor. Freshly made chips are a huge boon to any Mexican restaurant; not offering at least one basket for free isn't.

More unusual are the sopitos, almost like Mexican sloppy Joes, half-dollar-size corn cakes buried under small heaps of beans, chicken, tomato and cheese - messy, but yummy.

Our waiter raved about the chicken quesadilla, which seemed surprising enough that we tried that as well, forgoing more interesting-sounding appetizers like crab in a crispy tostada, seviche, or mussels and clams with chorizo.

Dense with corn, mushrooms and onions as well as cheese and chicken, and topped with guacamole and crema, the crisply done quesadilla was a tasty snack. At $7 it would make a fine dinner paired with a salad (the house has hazelnuts, blue cheese and raspberry vinaigrette; there's also a beet and avocado).

Regular entrees seem a tad expensive for what they are. Simple, $3 tacos are acceptable, but it took four to fill up one average-size diner.

The carnitas with pinto bean soup makes kind of a strange dinner -a few pork tacos with a bowl of soup -and $14 is a little steep. But the bean soup has a creamy, lush texture and well-developed flavor.

The carnitas isn't spicy, but the stringy, tender pork had a lot more flavor than the halibut tacos, which were bland to the point of nondescript.

Plenty of people prefer their Mexican food on the tame side of things, but if you're not one of them, be sure to make good use of the hot sauce, offered in industrial-size bottles.

- Audrey Van Buskirk

108 N.E. 28th Ave., 503-235-3828, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, $10-$24